Sunday, 2 March 2014

Meditation on a Rood Screen

I got to thinking, one day at Great Tremlett Church, about the idea of Rood Screens.

They were as popular before the Reformation as hagioscopes and monkey business among the monks, were Rood Screens. And come the Reformation, when the crosses and adoring / grieving figures around the Rood itself weren't so popular, it wasn't the screens themselves that got destroyed. Oh no. It was the figures on the top. The screens themselves stayed - normally whitewashed, to deface - quite literally - any saints who might have been painted on.

The Catholic Church, oddly enough, was the one that mostly got rid of them completely. Not in a frenzy of iconoclasm, as might have happened if the Puritans had decided the whole thing was suspect. But, rather, because the theology had changed. They wanted a clear view.

The thing about rood screens is - they're a combination of things for obscuring, and things for revelation. They mostly block out the congregation's view of the choir - no bad thing, at Great Tremlett, in my opinion. But they also block for the most part, the view from the congregation of what is happening at the altar.

But not quite. The congregation just gets glimpses of the holy action - the flash of some gold on the celebrant's sleeve, a glimpse of the host as it is raised (a bell being rung, to give you a chance of seeing it), the shine of the chalice as it's lifted up. Just glimpses of heavenly glory - God once more being poured out as flesh and blood for us.

Maybe a bit like up on that mountain. There's Jesus - the same one they've known these three years. The one who's sweated with them as they've walked across that hilly and hot land. The one who's laughed and hurt with them. The one who had just as much need of the roadside facilities of hedges and ditches, if you see what I mean, as them.

And there, on that mountain they see him - not as he really is, because that bloke they've walked with around Judea, Galilee and Samaria is who he really is - but as he also really is. The man who is God they've seen, heard, hugged, given a helping hand. The God who is human is a new one on them. But suddenly there he is, shining with his Father's glory - just as he has been from the beginning.

It's all too much for them. Peter wants to build some tabernacles - one for Jesus, one for each of the prophetic forerunners who've just shown up. He wants to put them back into tents - the place where Moses put the Ark - where he can be happy knowing they're there. But not have to look too closely at them. Maybe he remembers the story of how, when Moses went to talk with God, his face would shine so brightly that he would have to cover it up so he did not dazzle the Israelites. This is all too much. If he were an Oxford Movement cleric Peter would be wondering if there was any way of putting up a rood screen.

And it's over. And they're coming down. And Jesus isn't shining any more. Far from it. He's talking about the trials that are to come. For all the white light and heavenly clouds on the mountain, this isn't God moving in on the world like a Russian move on Ukraine. No, this is God as the European Resistance - underground, quietly carryng out one act of rebellion against the ruler of the world. There's going to be another moment soon when God's glory will be revealed - but it's not gonna be one anyone would expect.

And then the veil in the curtain will be torn, ordnary humans will have access to the Holy of Holies, and God will - quietly, gently, in such a way that you'll only notice if you really pay attention - make a home among us.

Jesus isn't God's rood screen - hiding holiness behind a human exterior, so we just have glimpses. This isn't Moses's mountain, thst we can't approach or touch. We gather round Jesus, who is God's altar, where the human and divine meet and mercy is poured out, and carry God within us, wherever we go.

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